All posts filed under: Review

Requiem for a Female Serial Killer—A Review

A review of Requiem for a Female Serial Killer by Phyllis Chesler. New English Review Press, 250 pages. (November 2020) Aileen Carol Wuornos was born in Michigan in 1956 and executed by lethal injection in Florida in 2002. She has been called America’s “first female serial killer,” but that wasn’t true by a long shot. Still, she might have been the first woman to kill (or be suspected of killing) a series of complete strangers—the victims of her homicidal female predecessors had been husbands, suitors, boarders, or children, old folks, or patients entrusted to them as nurse or caretaker. Wuornos’s seven victims (and there might have been more) were men between the ages of 40 and 65 who had picked her up as a hitchhiker on Florida’s highways—mostly along Interstate 75, which slices north-south through the middle of the state, then veers west to the Gulf Coast, where it abruptly swings eastward through the Everglades to greater Miami. The first of these killings, all of which involved multiple gunshots to the torso, took place in …

Despised—A Review

A review of Despised: Why the Modern Left Loathes the Working Class by Paul Embery. Polity, 216 pages (November 2020) In the 2019 British general election, the Labour Party was eviscerated, losing 60 seats and handing the Conservative Party a massive 80-seat majority. The most dramatic repudiation came in the Midlands and the North, where seats that had never voted Conservative fell to the Tories. It was an electoral catastrophe, and Paul Embery’s book Despised: Why the Modern Left Loathes the Working Class is intended to provide an autopsy and an analysis of the Left’s deeper ideological and cultural errors. Embery comes from within the left-conservative, Blue Labour tradition of Tory Socialists like John Ruskin—a left-wing form of post-liberal politics that leans left on economics and right on culture. Cultural distinction without exclusion; relationality over autonomy; community self-help over government centralisation. In clean, clear prose over 200 pages, he mourns the destruction of his party as a serious political force, and sets out what he thinks it must do if it is to be able …

Reinventing Racism—A Review

A review of Reinventing Racism by Jonathan D. Church. Rowman & Littlefield, 250 pages (December 2020) If the release of Robin DiAngelo’s 2018 book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism launched her into orbit, this past summer’s “racial reckoning” has made her a star. The book has been on the New York Times best-sellers list for a staggering 116 weeks in a row (and counting), while DiAngelo has been busy hosting workshops at universities and fortune 500 companies at perversely exorbitant fees. She gave an address to 184 Democratic members of Congress in the summer, and even made an appearance on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. It would be an understatement to say that her work has polarized opinion. In the introduction to White Fragility, Georgetown University professor and public intellectual Michael Eric Dyson called DiAngelo the “new racial sheriff in town.” On the other side of the debate, the linguist and writer John McWhorter has called the book a “racist tract” that treats black people like …

Freak Power: The Ballot or the Bomb—A Review

Fifty years ago, in a small mountain town in Colorado, a young writer led a band of misfits against the establishment in a grassroots political movement they called “Freak Power.” That writer was Hunter S. Thompson, author of Hell’s Angels and creator of Gonzo Journalism. His revolutionary campaign would capture the attention of the nation and influence local politics for decades to come. These improbable events are the subject of a new, independently produced documentary comprising recently uncovered archival footage. In 1970, Thompson was just a year away from writing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and fast becoming a name in the world of American journalism. While researching Hell’s Angels, he had embedded with the notorious biker gang and rode with them until they inevitably turned on him and issued a savage beating. Although he dismissed the Angels as “losers,” he recognised that their violent image provided them some measure of power in a society that was otherwise tipped against them: “In a prosperous democracy that is also a society of winners and losers, …

On the Trail of Delusion—A Review

A review of On the Trail of Delusion—Jim Garrison: The Great Accuser by Fred Litwin. NorthernBlues Books, 466 pages (September 30th, 2020) When Quillette asked if I might review Fred Litwin’s On the Trail of Delusion about the failed JFK assassination probe of New Orleans District Attorney, Jim Garrison, I initially hesitated. I did not believe there was much new information that another book could add to the historical record. In Case Closed, my 1993 re-examination of the assassination, I relied on documents from Garrison’s own investigation as the backbone of a 30-page chapter (“Black is White, and White is Black”) in which I exposed the extent of his abusive prosecution. In its review of Case Closed, Publishers Weekly wrote, “About New Orleans DA Jim Garrison, the hero of the movie JFK, [Posner] is merciless, laying out an endless trail of his lies and exaggerations.” Australia’s Sunday Herald Sun noted that “Previously undisclosed files cited by Posner also play havoc with the romanticised portrait of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison that director Oliver Stone presents in …

Totally Under Control—A Review

Alex Gibney’s Totally Under Control revisits a time, the legacy of which still haunts us. Spanning the period between January of 2020 and late spring of 2020, his new documentary traces the rise of the pandemic which has become a defining feature of our time. A New York Times headline on January 21st read “China Confirms New Coronavirus Spreads From Humans to Humans.” The full horror of mass deaths and economic lockdown hadn’t dawned on the world yet. Even in Wuhan there wasn’t full comprehension of what was to come. Nevertheless, the next day President Donald Trump was asked if he was worried about the pandemic and responded that “We have it totally under control.” Obviously, Trump was wrong. Totally Under Control is squarely focused on the bungling, mismanagement, and incoherence of the Trump administration. Gibney’s documentary is fundamentally a chronicle of the lopsided match between the COVID-19 pandemic and the Trump administration. As a point of contrast, Gibney focuses on the coherent and concerted efforts of America’s Pacific Rim ally, South Korea. The comparison …

Intellectual Freedom and the Culture Wars—A Review

A review of Intellectual Freedom and the Culture Wars by Piers Benn. Palgrave MacMillan, 168 pages (October 2020) I attended a notably liberal state university in the early 2000s. Most politically-minded students regarded themselves as either conventionally liberal or part of an amorphous Left which was focused primarily on cultural issues. I counted myself peripherally among the campus Left and participated occasionally in political activism—attending protests against the policies of the World Trade Organization and against American military adventures overseas (views which were then seen by enlightened opinion as left wing but are now, apparently, the domain of isolationist reactionaries). Most instructors on campus who revealed their political views also showed themselves to be a part of the Left. However, there were several popular conservative professors, a vibrant sect of College Republicans consisting mostly of garden-variety neocons, plenty of libertarians, and a couple of paleoconservative Buchanan brigaders. I sparred regularly with these people in class discussions, and regarded several of them as my friends. This was not especially uncommon. The kids who were genuinely invested …

The Dead Are Rising—A Review

A review of The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X by Les Payne and Tamara Payne. Liveright Press, 640 pages (October 2020) Stylized in Spike Lee’s excellent 1992 film and canonized by the thousands of high school and college instructors who have made his autobiography required reading, Malcolm X has become a man for all seasons. As a result, activists and commentators on both the Left and Right want the once-controversial figure all to themselves. To the Left, he is an icon of resistance to white political and cultural hegemony. To some on the Right, he stands apart from the Great Society statism that became the policy prescription of choice among the Civil Rights establishment, offering an alternative of self-reliance, entrepreneurship, and voluntary communalism. Not bad for a figure deemed, at best, divisive by respectable opinion during his lifetime. The latest biography of Malcolm X will serve boosters of either narrative. In The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X, the late Les Payne shows his subject to have been a complex …

Inside Story—A Review

A review of Inside Story by Martin Amis. Knopf, 560 pages. (October 2020) As literature’s cultural relevance washes out on the high tide of digital media, self-absorption becomes the order of the day. Those who can still be bothered to write “serious” books aren’t interested in telling other people’s stories. They want to tell their own. And in the age of profiles and self-promotion, it’s not surprising that auto-fiction—or what I like to call the ME novel—is the literary genre with the most purchase. ME writing, while centuries old, has exploded in the last decade: Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, Ben Lerner’s 10:04, and Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy (to name a few in fiction); Roxane Gay’s Hunger, Sheila Heti’s How Should A Person Be? and Leslie Jamison’s The Recovering (for non-fiction novels)—while other excesses, like blog novels and memoirs written by 28-year-olds have even managed to find their way to audiences. Now Martin Amis’s new novel Inside Story joins this club of “life writing” (a genre he describes as “rather dubious”). Inside Story is a ME …

One Billion Americans—A Review

A review of One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger by Matthew Yglesias, Portfolio, 288 pages (September 2020) Matthew Yglesias began his career as an online wonk, advocating a muscular American foreign policy that amounted to social work in the Middle East. While still an undergraduate at Harvard, he blogged up a storm, hoping to kickstart a democratic revolution in a region whose regimes he regarded as sufficiently evil and dangerous to warrant American intervention. Two decades later, the author of One Billion Americans wants to bring the revolution home. Yglesias proposes that the United States ensure its position as global hegemon by tripling its population over the course of this century. To achieve this grand demographic enterprise, he suggests a buffet of old and new public policies. His preferred admixture combines the pro-natalism of the French Third Republic with the planned economy of Olof Palme’s Sweden—a publicly subsidized boom in home construction that would make even the likes of William Levitt blush. He also recommends a massive expansion of legal immigration into the …